Park Tips for a 2021 Walt Disney World Visit
We’re a year into the pandemic now, and we’re also seven months past the reopening of Walt Disney World.
I’m someone fortunate enough to have visited Disney theme parks several times since then, and I have a few pieces of advice for you.
Here are park tips for a 2021 Walt Disney World visit.
Approach Hollywood Studios Differently from the Other Parks
In 2017, Disney virtually begged guests to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Before Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened, the park remained empty throughout the day.
In 2021, the situation has changed dramatically. Hollywood Studios feels – and often is – more crowded than any other park.
At 135 acres, it wasn’t ever expected to claim such crowds, which has caused some minor issues.
Disney continues to modify rules and procedures to protect guests, most recently moving a Relaxation Station from Galaxy’s Edge to elsewhere.
Meanwhile, its newest rides – including Slinky Dog Dash, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and the Star Wars stuff – are among Disney’s best.
You should approach a park visit differently. Understand in advance that you’ll wait longer for the attractions here. It’s a trade-off for such exceptional rides.
You’ll forget about the hour you spend at Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run the moment an alien spacecraft tries to shoot you out of the sky.
In planning your trip, expect Hollywood Studios to be your most intense day(s). As long as you manage expectations that way, you’ll love it.
Buy and Use Park Hopper
Of course, sometimes, everything will go right during a park visit, too. Last week, we legitimately checked off all the rides on our to-do list…by noon.
We’d picked Magic Kingdom, which has extremely short lines on some days. So, we utilized Park Hopper and switched to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
By 4 p.m. that day, we’d done Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Avatar Flight of Passage, and Na’Vi River Journey. That’s a full park day right there.
None of this would have been possible during the second half of 2020. When Walt Disney World reopened, Park Hopping wasn’t allowed.
Disney brought back this amenity at the start of 2021, and it’s phenomenal.
When you buy a Park Hopper ticket, you can enter any other Walt Disney World theme park at 2 p.m.
For EPCOT fans, it’s outstanding value. That park doesn’t even open until 11 a.m. on many days.
When you start the day at an early morning park like Animal Kingdom, you can visit Pandora, ride Kilimanjaro Safaris and still get to EPCOT by 2!
Tactics like this will allow you to maximize your visit, easily justified the price of Park Hopping admission.
Don’t Feel Like You HAVE to Do Something
You’ve heard the maxim that discretion is the better part of valor. At Walt Disney World, I forget this far too often.
I stubbornly get in a line and stay there, even when it breaks down for a while.
During a recent Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride, we waited 35 minutes, 20 of which came when the line stopped moving due to a malfunction.
Well, do as I say and not as I do here.
The quickest way to turn your dream vacation into a negative experience involves that stubborn streak that I possess.
When you refuse to adapt to changing circumstances, you’re entirely at the mercy of other people at the park.
Remember that this isn’t your last trip to Disney. You’ll be back! So, you shouldn’t feel like you HAVE to experience something.
If the line for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway comes with a 60-minute wait, decide whether that’s the best use of an hour at Disney.
I evaluate many wait-times in terms of opportunity cost. Will I get enough out of my ride on Space Mountain to justify 45 minutes in line?
I could probably ride Peter Pan’s Flight and Haunted Mansion in the same timeframe. Is that better?
You’ll find that the answer depends and will remain situational during your visit.
Follow the Rules
Here are a few ways that current Disney trips differ from your previous ones.
Disney requests that you skip the check-in area in your hotel lobby. Instead, you will receive your room assignment via text and email.
Once you possess that information, you should walk straight to your room.
You can even use a smartphone to unlock your door if you don’t have a MagicBand.
Everywhere at Walt Disney World, you must wear a face-covering that qualifies under the guidelines.
While moving, you cannot remove your facemask at the parks or resorts, even when you’re eating or drinking.
Instead, Disney expects you to socially distance yourself from others and remain stationary while eating and drinking.
Finally, in ride queues, you should stand behind the floor markers.
Park officials have meticulously calculated the best, i.e., safest places for people to stand.
You screw up the system for everyone when you ignore any of these rules. They’re simple, efficient, and protective. So, please follow these rules!
Cast members will remind you when you’re in violation of any of them. Importantly, guests get thrown out of the parks daily for ignoring the rules.
Know How Boarding Groups Work
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance holds the title of theme park attraction alpha right now. It’s probably the best Disney ride in the world.
Alas, everyone knows this, which makes the demand for Rise of the Resistance comically high.
Also, Disney keeps changing the rules. Here’s an article I wrote about how Boarding Groups work.
We’re less than three months down the road, and one part of that information has already changed.
The window for the second set of Boarding Groups opens at 1 p.m. rather than the old time of 2 p.m.
So, you must try at 7 a.m. and then 1 p.m. Otherwise, you won’t get to experience this stunning attraction.
Please monitor MickeyBlog to learn of any potential/impending changes to the Boarding Group process as your vacation date approaches.
I think the rules have changed five times in a calendar year. It’s easy to fall behind.
Plan for Different Transportation
You should know about some park changes as you traverse Walt Disney World.
For starters, the EPCOT monorail system remains offline and will probably stay that way for a while.
So, you cannot ride the monorail from Magic Kingdom or a monorail resort to EPCOT. Instead, you’ll take a bus.
Also, in better news, the Disney Skyliner remains operational during the pandemic. In fact, its design feels prescient.
Before the Skyliner’s debut, critics assailed Disney for its open-air design instead of air-conditioning. Now, that’s a competitive advance due to COVID-19.
You’ll travel safely and efficiently on the Skyliner. Since it drops guests off at EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, you should use it a lot.
Boats have also returned at Walt Disney World and are quite delightful when you want a relaxing ride.
Minnie Vans haven’t come back, though. If you want to ride-share, you must rely on Uber and/or Lyft, which you may find problematic due to social distancing.
Research Relaxation Station Options
Every Walt Disney World theme park includes at least two Relaxation Stations.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, think of them as mask-free zones. Those of you who worry about mask-related discomfort, these places are for you.
Park officials have carefully positioned these seating areas to keep them socially distant. You may safely unmask to eat, drink, or check your phone.
As I mentioned a moment ago, Disney has relocated some Relaxation Stations, which means you must check the placement during your list.
We’re big fans of the one at Golden Oak Outpost in Frontierland and the one at Akershus in EPCOT.
Both feel a bit bittersweet since the restaurants aren’t open, though.
Anyway, you’ll be glad that you know where the Relaxation Stations are when you need a break.
Of course, if you’re unsure, simply use MyDisneyExperience. It’ll show a map to the nearest Relaxation Station.